A New Mexico sunset beyond a stucco wall. A shady alley. A bustling dinner party. Her Story, presented by Pacific Northwest Ballet last weekend, transported the audience to these places and more in their triple bill program. Three outstanding female choreographers shared the night, but it was not director Peter Boal’s initial intention to create an all-female program. His letter in the program states, “I chose these three works because each is powerful, insightful, and skillfully crafted.” While the limelight is historically not shone on women choreographers, PNB pushes the ballet world a nudge in the right direction in choosing works based on their artistic merit, which for this production, happens to be the works of Jessica Lang, Twyla Tharp, and Crystal Pite.
Jessica Lang’s Her Door To The Sky opens the night with colors easy on the eye. Sunset toned costumes designed by Bradon McDonald swirl against a geometric back panel with a large cut-out square, its negative space revealing a sky blue backdrop. Beneath are many smaller squares, which delightfully act as windows throughout the work. Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Patio Door” series, Her Door inverts O’Keeffe’s shaded stucco wall opening to reveal a charming sentimentality. Ebullient port de bras contrast sprightly bouts of petite allegro, playfully bouncing one’s focus from head to toe, softening and pulling the gaze. Principal dancer Sarah Ricard Orza gives a particularly stunning performance, showing her versatility in focus—in one instance she smiles outwardly, seemingly looking each viewer in the eye; in the other, she performs a multi-leveled solo with the same vulnerability and air of unpredictability as improvisation.
Originally premiered by PNB in 2008, Twyla Tharp’s Afternoon Ball features three solos by what appear to be stylized street vagrants. Dressed in asymmetrical punk garb, their gritty movement intermixes with a heavy coating of snarl and taunt. Sarcastic eye rolls and wry facial expressions turn the dancers into dark caricatures while a composition by Vladimir Martynov drives the action forward. After a section of colorful solos, a more balletic duet forms between Angelica Generosa* and Benjamin Griffiths, while Lucien Postlewaite provides a welcome third party to balance out their brawling dynamic. While interesting in score, Afternoon Ball presented to a city with many street crises—such as the heroin epidemic, and increasing homelessness—hits a little close to home. It is unlikely this piece was created to specifically address these issues, nor challenge viewers to do the same. While the characters bounce around like jesters before a comfortable king, the piece feels coarse and insensitive to the city outside the theater walls.
Crystal Pite’s highly anticipated show stopper Plot Point stuns the audience from start to finish. Set to Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant score from the classic horror film Psycho, Plot Point rises to meet its intensity in both its screenplay structure and character demonstrations. Pite wastes no time in laying her ideas out on the table—watching her work is like watching a seasoned artist sketch. With a loose hand, she draws large themes, at the same time showing astute attention to detail in the thick of the movement. Getting to the heart of rudimentary concepts, her mastery leaves viewers aghast with a level of insight it normally takes a lifetime to acquire. Plot Point draws a story of a love affair, followed by a grisly revenge. However, it’s not the affair we are focused on—like any good film, it is the anticipation of how it will all play out. Using classical screenplay techniques, Pite builds in confrontations under secluded street lamps, transitions in a lively home gathering, the betrayal layering before our eyes. A chase scene through a foggy forest creates rising action, and climax ends in bloodshed.
Pite gives each dancer a masked alter ego—clad in all white versions of their counterpart’s outfits, they reveal the darker side of each person. Their absurd postures catch the fascination of the audience like children at a puppet show. Flexed fingers, strutted steps, and sly head turns say more than a hundred pages of dialogue. PNB dancers display their remarkable adaptability to not only contemporary movement, but the dynamic interchange that defines Pite’s work. Plot Point entertains and challenges all at once—how do we push and pull with our darker sides? When do they line up like exact reflections, their allure winning us over against all resistance?
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Her Story runs November 3-12 at McCaw Hall. More information at pnb.org.
*The article has been corrected. Original text read: “…Angelica Generosa and Lucien Postlewaite, while Miles Pertl provides a welcome third party…”